Before of a loud, packed Farris Center, the Yale Bulldogs crushed the UCA Sugar Bears' dream of ending the season cutting down the nets on their home floor Thursday with a 54-50 win.
With both teams trading hot streaks throughout the game, it came down to the wire, as UCA senior Taylor Baudoin buried two free throws to give the Sugar Bears (25-10) a 48-47 lead with 1:33 left. It was the first lead UCA held since the 8:07 mark in the third quarter.
However, Yale sophomore Roxy Barahman made a layup and was fouled on the play. She made the free throw to take a two-point lead. Baudoin answered with a mid-range jumper before Bulldogs senior Jen Berkowitz answered with a layup with 29 seconds left in the game.
Sugar Bear sophomore Taylor Sells turned the ball over on the UCA baseline with five seconds left, causing the Sugar Bears to foul. Berkowitz made both free throws, preserving Yale’s (19-13) first postseason championship.
“I could not be more proud of the young women who battled for 40 minutes against a fantastic team in Central Arkansas, who is unbelievably well coached,” Yale coach Allison Gruth said. “This environment was off the charts for women’s hoops. To come in here and be able to get this done, I think it says a lot about the character of our kids and their will to get it done.”
Guth said Yale’s defense came in strong in the final minutes.
“Our defensive effort really came through for us at the end,” she said. “We gave up a lot of offensive boards in the third quarter. I think we gave up six alone, but we gave up seven alone in the first half.
“We started getting some defensive stops and was able to come down and get some good offense. I thought Roxy was phenomenal down the stretch, working to get to the rim and to the lane. Then, Jen Berkowitz was huge for us with posting up.”
The Sugar Bears, who held the lead for much of the game, started pushing the ball inside to senior Kierra Jordan and found success.
Shortly, Yale adjusted and forced the ball on the perimeter by double-teaming Jordan and clogging the paint.
“I thought they got hot, getting the ball inside,” Guth said. “I thought [Kierra Jordan, 10 points, seven rebounds] was phenomenal on the inside, so we tried to double in on her. We tried to do those things and have less second-chance opportunities in the fourth.”
In the first quarter, UCA shot 50 percent from the field, leading 18-11.
In contrast, the Bulldogs held the Sugar Bears to 30.1 percent the rest of the way, outscoring UCA, 43-32.
Guth said switching on defense played a key role after the first quarter.
“We liked the way our switching on defense looked,” she said. “We were trying to switch at the point of screens and switch cleanly, so I really believe we were able to keep them on the perimeter and wanted to guard the paint."
Sugar Bear coach Sandra Rushing was not happy with her team’s effort.
“We got outplayed and outworked,” she said. “We didn’t listen to the game plan. I’m not proud the way this season ended. We got a second chance to win a championship [other than the Southland Conference tournament] and cut down the net on our home floor and we didn’t seal the deal. I’ll take responsibility for that.”
Rushing said the poor shooting after the first quarter was attributed to shot selection and wanting to shine in front of a big crowd.
“We forced more shots and went on our own agenda because the big crowd,” she said. “The crowd was absolutely amazing. I’m so happy they came out to support us. I’m sorry we let them down.”
Yale’s season concludes as the most successful in program history.
UCA’s season ends with it’s third consecutive 25-win season.